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Basil the Great Church. Personalities Gregory of Nazianzus

Saint Gregory of Nyssa (greek Γρηγόριος Νύσσης)

Gregory of Nyssa (greek Γρηγόριος Νύσσης)

Born: 335;  Neocaesarea, Cappadocia
Died: 395;  Nyssa, Cappadocia

Gregory of Nyssa, also known as Gregory Nyssen was bishop of Nyssa from 372 to 376 and from 378 until his death. He is venerated as a saint in Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Oriental Orthodoxy, Lutheranism, and Anglicanism. Gregory, his elder brother Basil of Caesarea, and their friend Gregory of Nazianzus are collectively known as the Cappadocian Fathers. He was an erudite theologian who made significant contributions to the doctrine of the Trinity and the Nicene Creed.

It is impossible, for example, to speak of either anthropology or Trinitarian theology in Byzantium without referring to Origen and to the doctrines of the great Fathers of the fourth century, whom the Byzantines recognizes as their teachers par excellence.

John Meyendorff
Byzantine Theology, Historical trends and doctrinal themes
Doctrinal Themes

We must confess one God

Therefore we must confess one God, according to the testimony of Scripture, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord thy God is one Lord,” even though the name of Godhead extends through the Holy Trinity.

Gregory of Nyssa
On 'Not Three Gods'

The Cappadocians' Doctrine of the Holy Trinity

The unity of the Holy Trinity is established not by the trihypostatizedness of the Divine Person, including the trinitarity of the equally divine Persons with one nature, but only by the unity of this nature. As one, the trihypostacic Divinity is only the Divine It, not the trihypostatic I, the Divine triunity.

The number of the hypostases is defined only de facto, according to the presence of the properties, so that in itself it could be more or less than three.

In assessing the achievements of the Cappadocians, one must recognize that they dogmatically established the classic doctrine of the Holy Trinity, which can be accepted as the norm of the Church teaching: It is free of non-orthodox deviations toward monarchianism, and toward subordinacionism, both ontological and cosmological; and in this sense it represents a middle, «royal way» of the Church doctrine. The achievements of these «universal teachers of the Church» cannot be overstated here. Moreover, their doctrine includes, in the capacity of its presuppositions, the ripest fruit of ancient speculation — a synthesis of Aristoteleanism, Platonism, and Neoplatonism. The religio-philosophical one-sidedness of each of these positions is overcome; they complement one another, if not always organically.

Such a synthesis cannot be final or complete, of course. It is marked by the limitations of the epoch; and this must be said too about the Cappadocian theology, which is far inferior to the Cappadocian dogmatics. The weak sides of this theology, already noted in part above, are as follows: First, the doctrine of the Cappadocians is not, strictly speaking, a doctrine of the Holy Trinity as a purely trinitarian doctrine, although dogmatically it aspires to be precisely such. Their doctrine takes as its point of departure the trinitarity of the hypostases, of which the Holy Trinity is then composed; but this composition remains unfinished in the sense that its result is three united in one nature, not a triunity. The unity of the Holy Trinity is thus established not by the trihypostatizedness of the Divine Person, including the trinitarity of the equally divine Persons with one nature, but only by the unity of this nature. As one, the trihypostacic Divinity is only the Divine It, not the trihypostatic I, the Divine triunity. This is the only part of the Cappadocian system where the doctrine of the Trinity is expounded not only imprecisely but even erroneously. Unity in Trinity is equally both Person (although the trihypostatic one, Elohim-Yahweh) and one nature (but not only the unity of nature).

Associated with this is a second weak side of the Cappadocians' trinitarian doctrine, a weakness connected with their formal-logical Aristoteleanism: The hypostases, each of which is established by its hypostatic property, remain unconnected among themselves. They are united by the unity of their ousia or substance (with all the obscurity of this definition; see above), but not among themselves. Their relation is only that of a series. They are three, not a trinity; and hypostatic trinitarity is replaced here by ousian unity. This is a result of the formal and mechanical application of the Aristotelean schemata of ousia and hypostasis, where each separate hypostaric property, γνώρισμα, gives a new hypostasis. The number of these hypostases is defined only de facto, according to the presence of the properties, so that in itself it could be more or less than three. The ontological necessity of precisely three, as a trinity, is not shown and not proved. True, this trinitarity is motivated for the Cappadocians by the three hypostatic properties taken from revelation. Having begun their ontological deduction of trinitarity on the basis of Aristotle, they conclude it on the basis of the dogmatic fact of the revelation concerning the three hypostases; but this conclusion based on revelation cannot replace theological development.

Third, the Cappadocians also desire to constrain the Holy Trinity and theologically justify the triunity of the three by means of the idea of monarchy, the distinction in the Holy Trinity between the Principle without beginning and hypostases that do have a beginning: aitia and aitiatoi. But this important idea remains theoretically unclarified in its theological significance and, in any case, it must be explicated and defended with reference to subordinationism.

Fourth, owing to their particular formulation of the trinitarian problem, the Cappadocians naturally give a prominent place to the order, or taxis, of the Divine persons, also in connection with the monarchy of the Holy Trinity. Taking the order of the hypostases from revelation and applying it to the principle of monarchy, the Cappadocians do not give it a theological and ontological interpretation, because their trinitarian doctrine fails to establish a connection between the three hypostases. Meantime, a theory of taxis and of its true significance must play a fundamental role in the doctrine of the Holy Trinity.

Fr. Sergei Bulgakov
The Comforter
VI. The Cappadocians' Doctrine of the Holy Trinity and of the Holy Spirit

In their theological interpretation of the dogma of trinity (and this is a general feature of the Eastern trinitarian theology), the Cappadocians take as their starting point not the unity of the ousia but the trinitarity of the hypostases, in contrast to Western theology, which takes as its starting point the unity of substance, seeking in it the origination of the three hypostases.

According to Cappadocians the triune I is assured only by the unity of the ousia, not by the unity, even if trinitarian, of the hypostasis. But this is insufficient, for the Holy Trinity is one not only in the ousia, or essence, but also in the trihypostatic subject.

… In and of itself, this equation of hypostatic properties with the hypostases themselves is unjustified. One must remember that hypostatization in Aristotle has nothing to do with personally hypostatic definitions. The Cappadocians, in effect, apply his scheme to the dogma already given by the Church, but this scheme is totally insufficient to establish the personal character of hypostatic being. Nevertheless, it does achieve another goal that the Cappadocians pursue in their problematic: it divides Divinity into three, making it trihypostatic.

This division into three goes, as we have seen, even farther than is needed. That which is required for the trinitarian dogma is not merely three I's but a triune I, trinity in unity and unity in trinity (to which the Cappadocians ceaselessly bear witness). In this construction, however, the triune I is assured only by the unity of the ousia, not by the unity, even if trinitarian, of the hypostasis. But this is insufficient, for the Holy Trinity is one not only in the ousia, or essence, but also in the trihypostatic subject. And precisely the incompleteness of the doctrine in this respect makes it vulnerable in relation to tritheism. The reason for this is the reified but not hypostatic character of the Aristotelean categories, which, in and of themselves, are therefore insufficient for knowing the hypostases and the trihypostatizedness, although, in that epoch, they introduced a certain comparative clarity.

In their theological interpretation of the dogma of trinity (and this is a general feature of the Eastern trinitarian theology), the Cappadocians take as their starting point not the unity of the ousia but the trinitarity of the hypostases, in contrast to Western theology, which takes as its starting point the unity of substance, seeking in it the origination of the three hypostases. The three hypostases are united in the Holy Trinity, which consists of equally divine hypostases. The doctrine of the Cappadocians rejects both subordinationism and cosmologism in the interpretation of the Holy Trinity. The Holy Trinity exists eternally in Itself, independently of Its revelation in the world. This immanent character of the Holy Trinity is sometimes defined entirely in the spirit of Neoplatonism (without its subordinationism), even in the very same words. Elemencs of Neoplatonic metaphysics are combined here with Aristotle's logical rationalism.

Fr. Sergei Bulgakov
The Comforter
VI. The Cappadocians' Doctrine of the Holy Trinity and of the Holy Spirit

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